Little resolution

Alive for six weeks, no more, maybe less,

but for most of your life, you float, flutter and caress

all the wildflowers I planted to try and make sense

of the mysterious brown patches that were shouting, ‘neglect!’

to my neighbors or just about anyone passing by.

Fortunately, with no HOA, we’ve escaped being fined.

 

But you and the flowers can usually make me smile

even when I’ve been crabby and stuck in my own head for a while.

Your sweet, short life doesn’t seem to bother you

and though I’m not in your position, you’ve shown me something I can do

is to drink all the nectar right under my nose

and befriend the wind that takes me wherever it goes.

 

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On being Mum…

meandstel We had planned it so well, the midwives, myself and your father. There were ‘gas-and-air’ canisters, huge sheets of plastic and other mysterious supplies under the sofa and a largish inflatable paddling pool propped up on top of it. We were ready, we thought.

You were late, so they say, but I seem to just like to cook my babies over the 40 week mark. Well done babies but medium rare steak, please. But because of the over-40-weeks thing, there was a threat of being induced. And I had read far too many birth stories online and just knew that inducing was not what I wanted for either of us.

When the consultant scheduled our induction, I trundled out of the office like a sad tortoise. Hot tears ran down my cheeks as I told your father what they’d done and how desperately I didn’t want that story for us.

I had been so focused on the whole mystery of childbirth. That was the moment I couldn’t get past just like with marriage sometimes we can focus on the wedding when what is really going on has a much longer reach. I was in the holding pattern of your little movements making waves across my belly and your bout of hiccups almost every day after lunch, no matter what I ate.

Your arrival was probably my first, biggest lesson in giving up control. Though I didn’t go quietly…and the lesson has dawned on me ever so slowly, ever since. What happened was nothing we had planned, but everything we needed. Because the story that ends with your arrival was always going to be good.

A home water birth was the plan. Everything was purchased and ready. Midwives were on call. I’d had a ‘sweep’ with the consultant to try and ‘get things going’ naturally. I could write more about that here, but then this post would veer into a PG-13 rating…The consultant was so pleased with herself after this ‘sweep’, said I was already dilated 1, and she’d be surprised if things didn’t ‘get going’ now. Her words meant almost nothing to me, I just felt ‘Ouch!’ But again I hobbled home on the bus after relating the hopeful news to your father. Maybe we’d get to meet you sooner than later after all?

And indeed, the first signs of your appearance did come that very evening with gushes of water and intense contractions. I phoned the midwives straight away, and someone who looked seventeen showed up at our door. She said she was a midwife, but we’ve always wondered if I was her first home birth and/or delivery.

She seemed really nervous and that put your dad on edge, he told me later. I was already having an out-of-body experience at this point, to cope with the pain. The teenage midwife’s main beef was that she couldn’t hear your heartbeat with her antique monitor baby-heart listening device. I was just frustrated at her vain attempts and her asking me to sit up when I just wanted to curl into a ball to deal with the iron-man of contractions that was happening in my body.

At one point, when this whole heart monitor/contractions fiasco was going on, your dad popped his head in, and with cappuccino in hand, asked if he should fill up the paddling pool now? I think we both just glared at him. I don’t think I had the powers of speech anymore, but shortly after this, the midwife called for an ambulance to take us to the hospital. I was relieved because I didn’t think she could handle it on her own.

And in the end, we had an amazing team around us. The midwife who delivered you was a German lady called Mitzi and she was amazing; helping me in those first moments after you were born, while you were being born. She taught me how important it is to listen to that specific ‘mama’ part of me, to trust in it cause it’s given to mamas for a reason.

I don’t know how or why mamas seem to be the parent with a sixth-sense connection to their children, but it’s often the case. It happened for us over time. As I got to know you and we found our unique rhythm as this brand new family. You made us that – a family. I’ve always marveled at that. Such a big job for a tiny little person.

My priorities got reset the second I stepped outside with you. We were leaving the hospital and I was riding in the back with you securely strapped into a too-large looking car seat. And I couldn’t believe we were just allowed to take you home, just like that! I’d have dreams where I was still processing that your amazing-ness was a part of us now. You’d been hidden for nine months, but now all the world could wonder at you with us.

And the world seemed bigger and louder and riskier now that your newness and tiny fiestyness were part of it. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Whether it knows it or not, that world needs you. Now more than ever. To show it what beauty and kindness look like in a preteen female form. To show it how powerful they can be. To show us all, my sweet girl. To show us all.

 

Welcome to the Query Games, may the agents be ever in your favor.

I first heard about the DFW Writer’s Conference about a month ago when I went to an AIR time event to hear Sarah Riehm (local playwright, author and friend of a friend) speak about her career and works. She mentioned going to the conference at the start of her career and how it had opened doors and she’d found a critique group through it. She also mentioned that finding an agent is much harder than getting published, though I’m not sure where she got that statistic…However, when I investigated the conference  and saw that I could get a face-to-face opportunity to pitch to an actual, real, live agent, I was sold!

But first things first, what to wear, who to print my business cards, and oh yeah, pitch preparation. I did tons of research and the advice seemed to be to go to the face-to-face meeting with an elevator pitch (short, pithy, just a few sentences) and then wait for questions from the agent. This was a dialogue, not a speech. In everyone’s dream scenario (most people would deny this, but I’m being honest here), the agent has to compose herself as she is just blown away by the brilliance of your story and delivery, is impressed with your writing ability, and wants to sign you on the spot (though there are reasons you should never do this…). This NEVER happens…except when it does.

The more likely scenario is for the agent to say something like, “I’m interested, send me your query letter and the first 10 pages,” OR “Sounds great, but not for me.” Agents have to become masters of the easy let down. The one I pitched to was so convincing in her generous no, I was sure she was going to change her mind. I even considered writing something she represents just so she could say yes.

Here was my biggest pitching problem: the research I did on the agents at the conference somehow didn’t match up with their real-world interests. Maybe I was doing the research too late at night, maybe I wasn’t clear on my genre initially, maybe I was too hurried to pick my top three choices. All of the above is probably true. And no matter how kind and truly lovely my new writer friends were about my failed pitches, I fantastically bombed. And I could see it coming.

My pitch session was early in the day and I knew going into it that my first choice agent didn’t represent my genre. In my defense, genres are slippery suckers and my book could fit into a couple. But never mind, cause she did pass on my book, but with such grace. Agents are gracious souls…except maybe when they have a gong in front of them.

I felt such fondness for all the agents I met, even the egomaniac who was roaring, literally, throughout his class. They really do want you to do well, not only cause that’s how they get paid, but because maybe they like good stories? I especially admired and appreciated the graciousness of the two agents I pitched to on Saturday night when I wasn’t excited about my pitch/book/life anymore but by golly I was still gonna spew out share my idea with them even though one didn’t even represent my genre – AGAIN!! – and the other one was just trying to have a chill with a beer and I was all, “Hi! I wanted to meet you! Can I pitch to you? (NO pleasantries or anything! No – Hey, so how about those queries at the gong show? HAHA! No, so who/what are the most exciting writers/books to you at the moment? Argh… my Momma taught me better than this people…).

That final agent, God bless her, tossed a dog a bone. She said, after the world’s longest pause, “Okay…you can query me.” She didn’t say she was interested (I noticed this), but she did give me permission to do what I could have already – which is to send her an email with my query letter and first 10 or so pages of my novel…though I guess I get to say this is a requested query since I twisted her arm with my bloodshot eyes (SOOOOO tired, I was) and my desperate/monotone pitch.

Some of you might say, Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad! (It was, you’re wrong) Or, well at least you got a request! And yes, that is true, but I’ve discovered I hate face-to-face pitches. There’s a reason I use writing to express myself. I’m going to wholeheartedly embrace the email pitch for a while…after I re-work my novel’s ending. But more on my conference editing session next time…

 

 

After twilight…ramblings

These are the kinds of words that pull me from my bed at 11.49pm, asking to be written..beware – I am liberal with the “-” and the “,” – you’ve been warned, turn away now if you insist on traditional methods of punctuation.

“I first found you in the rustling of the leaves of my neighbour’s magnolia tree. Sitting in their swing, singing a one-time song to you with innocent tears and You in the wind, answering back – finding my soul beautiful.

This was our easy back and forth. You, a steady knowing in my heart I never doubted. You, an open hand in all the loss.

I don’t know how to teach this to my three, but I want them to have their own swing-song encounters with You. I want their knowing to be stunning and real-to-the-dirt and their very own.

I want them to know how to touch heaven and find it more real than the breath in their lungs…because one day, we won’t need breath any more, but You are always.

“Oooo baby, do you know what that’s worth

Ooo heaven is a place on Earth

They say in heaven, love comes first

Who made heaven a place on Earth

Ooo heaven is a place on Earth.”

God and love…and fear.

God is love, and perfect love drives out fear, but I had so much fear when I was little. Fear, and yet, always wanting to be good, to be free and safe. There was no imminent threat except the constant threat of not being included, chosen, saved… For too many years of my young life I was in a total quandary as to how to be free from the guilt that I wasn’t good enough and never would be.

So even Your wooing, constant presence, especially through music and words, wasn’t enough…I really didn’t get the revelation until much much later – of how You did it all on the cross – that it really WAS finished and we could truly move on – and quit getting saved and quit feeling so bad – and You and I could have our adventures…

Our relationship – I’ve always seen it more as walking and talking than anything else. It isn’t static, and there’s ebb and flow, give and take….It’s not prayer and penance or guilt and forgiveness. It is, of course, those things…but it’s also more mundane and sublime.

Because You are with me when I’m watching Dragon Riders. You are with me when I stare adoringly at my son. You are with me when I read a text and then don’t reply because a scream from the other room pulls me away.

You are unfathomable but want to be known. You are too big to be limited by my small life and it is such a relief. None of my ideas sound crazy to You. They are never too small, too overwhelmingly big to You.

You are huge. You are intimate.

To me, lately, you are quiet and soft.

I thought you were too quiet when we were planning to move to a very long way away and I was pregnant and some of us just weren’t too keen on the idea.

You didn’t seem to want to pick up the phone to me. I kept calling, and either I hung up just when You picked up, or you let it ring, like, forever. Whatever.

And we never really talked about this huge life change. You asked me to do something I thought I had done before. But only really You and I know just how uncomfortable it was. And painful…and regrettable, at times, not now, thankfully.

Trust me.

That’s about all I heard. Like the echo of a whisper. Like it was really just my heart telling me to do it because there was no other way to stay afloat. Only you and I know how close I came to losing my shit…and maybe the Hubs…a lot.

You and I though…there is still that. Thank you.

And that is what I want them to know. My three. And the other kids I’m getting to know. And also just about every other little pair of wide eyes I see.

“You and Him – Him and You – You’re never alone, His love, His love…” That’s what I carry around in my heart for those little eyes. That’s what I want to be found full of…the togetherness you have and the love, always the love that listens and heals.

I found You again here. Easily. Much easier than in England. I find you easily in love, of course, but in hate you are steadfast – not driven away, but strong and present.

We need You in fear and hate, panic and deceit. We need Your incorruptible truth to shine through the muck. We so easily forget Your goodness when this world shows us its ugly underbelly. But the hate doesn’t make You any less good.

I regularly go on news-fasts cause I need Your untainted kindness and it’s hard to remember that’s possible when I get too filled with the thoughts that pervade down here.

Not that I am down and You are up. You are here, always, with me,  with us, among and beside. Forever. Amen.”

 

 

Soul Salve

He’s an ointment I rub into the places
that ache or irritate.
I rub Him in deep
the relief isn’t always immediate.

He sits with me in the rage
and waits for me to finish
He’s quiet and accepting because
this too shall pass

I was created first and foremost
Just for Him.
So until Him, I’m not my fullest me.

He takes my hand
which I’ve pulled away a few times because
shame, loneliness, anger, regret…
they’re all so real and have left their marks.

But He reaches again for my hand.
And this time I don’t fight.

He is, and because He is, I can be, just be.

Distractions

Distractions are so dependable. When one shows up, I say, ‘Ah, there you are! My old frenemy. So glad you could join me in this creative endeavour!’ Not.

My writing days have become an exercise in distraction prevention…and that’s good because it’s how the laundry gets done which is considerable with 5 humans and a dog.

I have two 4-hour chunks of dedicated time to write each week. All other writing happens in-between times and nap times and letting the kids watch tv and eat snack-times. And on my writing days, when I have 4 whole hours, I feel pressure. It’s all from my own head and is a distraction in itself. I deal with it by breaking it down into 30-minute pieces or just giving myself a break or giving myself a hard time, depending on day.

When I first started writing, I was semi-obsessed with the writing processes of accomplished authors. I would read books about it. Articles about it. I would try stuff. For a while, part of my writing process was painting my nails just before I began because a) I could type/write with semi-wet nails and b) it kept me from doing other things like moving my butt out of my chair. I had been inspired by Victor Hugo who famously had a servant take his clothes away, leaving him no option but to stay indoors and write. Painting my nails was tame, and warmer, by comparison but it served the same purpose and worked for a while.

What I did finally discover, and it came as my confidence grew, was that there’s no right or wrong way to do this. If you must write, then you must.

But some good, and odd bits of advice have stuck with me:

  • Don’t eat. This is rubbish though. This lady (don’t remember her name, which is good cause I wouldn’t want to heap ridicule on her) advocated naps, walks, music, dancing, but NOT eating. She specifically said, Do not take a break from writing to eat. She had problems. I take relish in breaking this ‘rule’ regularly.
  • Anne Lamott is a writing hero of mine. Her book Bird by bird has to be one of the best and funniest books about writing, ever. Here’s what I wrote as a takeaway from her. “Align myself with the river of the story – the river of unconsciousness – of memory and sensibility, of my characters’ lives, which can then pour through me.” Any time I fight this one, it’s a disaster. Go with the flow when not editing.
  • Silence the inner-critic – I think I’ve become pretty good at this. This and the advice above are how I’ve written the first draft of my book. If you go with Anne’s advice, you will pretty much silence the critic or will at least be so caught up in your characters’ lives you won’t notice anything else. But you must not have the demon in your ear saying horrible things like you’re no good or you’re a fraud, you need a happy womb for your word baby. Remember, we’re all practicing the writing thing, all of us. Out of quantity comes quality, so just knock out the words and keep.on.going. Keep them tumbling. And no one but YOU can tell your story, just as you’re telling it.
  • Have a lie down, but stay awake. Yes, it’s the opposite of a nap and that’s a big negative. I know. But seriously, a friend mentioned this to me and I tried it because sometimes my ‘best’ ideas come as I’m just drifting off to sleep. And we’ll never know if they are truly my best ideas because the ones that don’t get recorded (over half of them!) are lost FOREVER! This haunts me as someone who can live in an idea or use it as a scene or poem or that plot twist I desperately needed. Laying down is just relaxing. Then from this relaxed state, the ideas flow…but instead of rolling over and going back to sleep or repeating them over and over and telling yourself to remember them, (it doesn’t work, just write them down!) you are poised to record those glorious words.
  • Write it down. Sounds completely obvious, but the obvious is worth stating. I have paper and pencil near my bed, in the car, with me at all times. Failing that, most of us have a phone with a note function that will do in a pinch though I wouldn’t want to write tons in that medium.

And now I’ll leave you with this from Carl Sandburg, “Beware of advice – even this.”

Thanks Carl. 🙂

 

 

 

Queries, Synopses and Agents, oh my!

The Voice was one of my favorite shows. (That’s past-tense because we were in the UK at the time and had ‘live’ tv which we will probably never have here in the US, cause I can do without the ads and cable news for like, forever.)

But really, my love for that show is all about the moment the chairs turn around. And you see the singer’s face light-up, because someone, besides friends and family who love him anyway, BELIEVES in him.

A minute ago this kid didn’t know if anyone would validate him. And now 4 celebrities are trying to out-name-drop each other or establish their credibility to get HIM to choose THEM. But I love the reversal of how the ‘who-is-this-person?’ person now has the choice.

So I was just a teeeeeensy bit reminded of this dynamic when I was looking at agents this week. Now, by no means am I holding all the cards, or any cards really, just some words I have poured myself into for the past few years, here and there. But I can identify with that vulnerability the people taking the stage on The Voice must feel.

I’ve always known I did not want to self-publish this book. But only recently have I, in earnest, started researching exactly what my next steps are if I want to be represented by a literary agent.

This is both a helpful and daunting article on writing a query letter. Helpful, because clear guidelines, examples and such…Daunting, because I now have to audition my novel and the audition is an audition in itself…If my writing and content for the letter aren’t great, the novel will never even get a look-in…so no pressure then!!

But searching for agents has turned out to be a fun diversion in the whole process….like internet dating of a different sort. There are hundreds of literary agencies out there, but only one of these people is going to, ultimately, work with me to get my book published (being positive here, folks!!). So I’m looking for someone who’s looking for me, my style of writing, a first-timer, my genre….don’t get me started on genres.

Some agencies are super-helpful and have great agent bios like this to help you suss out who to address your query to because I’m guessing very few of us would-be novelists have come face to face with the elusive literary agent.

And it was after reading MANY of these bios that I realized they need us too. They would be out of a job if it weren’t for us would-be novelists who write unsolicited material, tons of it, giving them words and words and stories to read and yes, mostly reject…but man, when the chair does turn…well, I hope to tell you what that’s like.

In the meantime, I’m trying to whittle my novel down to 3,000 words or less…I wonder if people self-publish to avoid writing a synopsis? I’ve read my book many times but when I come to write the synopsis, my mind completely blanks. It’s not new threads or plot twists I’m trying to create, just some simple recall. I never was great at reading comprehension though…something about how I translate words and actions into emotion and then remember the feelings rather than what caused them.

 

 

Holy Moly

I have no words.

Actually, I had lots of them…but they’re all tucked up together now, in their dreamy little drama that I hope to share with the world one day.

I have been typing out my soul for YEARS!!!! Maybe 13+ ? I haven’t been keeping exact track but it was about that long ago I started writing in earnest with the end goal of writing a novel.

The project morphed more than once. At one point, I trashed everything I’d written (or put it to one side…I never trash precious story ideas, snippets, and the such and have a box full of them that I’ll go through one day…who are we kidding, I’ll just keep them forever because otherwise, their ghosts will haunt me.) and started over on a new thread.

And that new thread was started about 5 years ago.

And today – la fin!

Between those points – lots of life happened, a birth, three deaths and a transatlantic move for starters…and also some procrastination. Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be who I am without procrastination.

Why, just today, at the thought of actually finishing this mammoth project – and then what??? – I got the sudden urge to mop the floor. This is the fruit of writing procrastination – some cleaning happens.

I am now firmly in the “and now, what?” phase of this writing project which will include:

  1. Some rejoicing
  2. Some fretting – I’ve sent out my word-baby to a few ‘safe’ souls for a cursory glance. If we make it out alive, there will be more editing.
  3. Research – I’m gonna try to find a literary agent – stay tuned for all the rejection letters I’ll post!
  4. Life – it will go on…
  5. More writing – one of the aspects of this project ‘morphing’ was that I envisioned a few books – maybe three or four? so I’ll start writing the next one…
  6. etc, etc…

I’ve been in a strict season of silencing my inner critic. You know, that ‘voice of reason’ that tells you to be realistic, that second-guesses, and offers unsolicited advice among other nasty habits. It’s crucial to creativity to go with the flow, travel down the winding path and follow those fancy flights. I don’t really want to come out of it.

But to move this baby on, I have to craft a marketing letter – for me and the word-baby – but that’s alright. I’ll relish that challenge. What I’m a teensy bit apprehensive about is coming out of my own head – where I’ve been living regularly to make the novel happen – and having to face the big scary world where sometimes dreams come true and sometimes…they are squashed. So there’s that.